Friday, August 12, 2011
There’s not much to do in Manchester. Or so I was told at my hotel. And by the tourism board. According to the hotel, there was absolutely nothing to do but shop and go to bars. According to the tourism board website, the top five things to do in Manchester included going to the airport. I wasn’t sure how I was going to occupy my time.
When I wasn’t eating, that is. I traveled to Manchester by train on Saturday evening after spending the day in its rival city, Liverpool. My hotel, the Malmaison, was conveniently located just down the street from the station. I met a friend there and we had a glass of Champagne in the hotel’s brand new lobby bar before having dinner at the new restaurant, Smoak.
We spent several hours enjoying blackened figs, crab cakes, tuna steaks, and baked Alaska with a great bottle of Domaine Nicolas Rossignol “Santenots” Volnay Premier Cru 2006 as the restaurant buzzed with energy and the open kitchen was kept busy with a constant stream of orders.
After the meal we were invited to have cocktails at the hotel’s new Ember Lounge Prive, a reservations-only bijou bar where our bespoke cocktails were made according to our tastes.
Back up in our room, which the hotel had kindly offered on a complimentary basis along with dinner and breakfast, we slept soundly. The room was spacious and decorated in nice soothing grays, and the bathroom was a good size with a range of amenities.
We woke up the next morning to a rainy day outside. Undeterred, we made our rounds at the extensive breakfast buffet, ordered plates of eggs Benedict, and waited for the sky to clear.
While we were waiting, we took a quick tour of the hotel. We saw the five conference rooms, the calm subterranean spa, and the small fitness room. By the time we had made our way back up to the ground floor the rain had stopped.
We got a map from the manager, who insisted that there was nothing to do in Manchester even as she pointed out places like Chinatown and the quarter with all of the museums and galleries, and headed out to see if we could prove her wrong.
And we did. After a quick stop in Chinatown, we stumbled upon the Manchester Art Gallery.
We spent an hour exploring the museum, which had exhibitions about the city’s history that reminded me of the new Museum of Liverpool and the M Shed museum in Bristol, as well as 18th to 20th century painting galleries upstairs. While small, the collection had some impressive works and we were glad to have come across it.
Back outside, we met up with Mark Garner, the brains behind Manchester Confidential, for lunch. He took us to a riverfront pub in Salford called the Mark Addy. The chef there was a big admirer of Fergus Henderson’s St. John restaurant in London, which offers “nose to tail” dining using all parts of the animal.
As such, the menu was rife with everything from wood pigeon to offal. First we were treated to unique local specialties like pickled tripe, spam fritters, fried sand eels, and bone marrow. The first three were new flavors for me, although I had tasted tripe soup in Romania as a kid. The last wasn’t, and it was my favorite of the four.
The small bites were followed by everything from shrimp soup to lamb and cheesecake. We enjoyed a leisurely lunch with some more good Burgundy and then made our way back into Manchester to continue finding sightseeing opportunities.
We walked along Market Street, the large shopping thoroughfare that was sadly looted two days later in the Manchester riots, and made our way to Piccadilly Gardens, where local restaurants were selling picnic baskets and other goodies for people to try.
We bought some food for the train ride home, then walked over to the pretty city hall building, the historic cathedral, and a market in St Ann’s Square. After perusing the goods for sale, we made our way back to the Malmaison to pick up our bags and hop on our train to travel back to London.
We left Manchester having found plenty keep us busy. I was happy that we were able to prove wrong those that claimed that there was nothing to do, and glad that we enjoyed our Manchester hotel, restaurant, and sightseeing experiences.